Sometimes toes get stepped on when Barry takes a stand

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Mr. Barry, as he often does, brushed aside the criticism.

“I’m considered the most strategic, brilliant political strategist around — you’ve heard that,” he said. “And I’ve done that because I know how to say certain things when I say them, don’t say them. Like a prizefighter, you don’t telegraph your left hook. Otherwise, the person will duck out of it.”

He also thinks he can convince enough of his colleagues to come to his side on ex-offender discrimination before the end of the legislative session. He signaled on Monday he would introduce an anti-discrimination amendment to Mr. Mendelson’s parallel bill on ex-offenders.

“Mr. Chairman it is not too late,” Mr. Barry said in a letter to Mr. Mendelson, in which he compared the District to Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Mr. Barry’s own bill earned strong support from two colleagues, council members Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who said the District is “behind a lot of cities” on the issue.

Philadelphia broke ground in March 2011 when it passed a law to “ban the box,” a reference to the spot on job applications that asks about a person’s criminal history. Although more than 40 cities and counties have passed similar legislation, Philadelphia set a benchmark for the movement by becoming the first jurisdiction to ban upfront discrimination by public and private employers, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Maurice Emsellem, a policy co-director for the law project, said in a phone interview it is “great it’s an issue that is being debated in the District.”

He preferred to comment on the substance of the proposals, and not who is leading them but did say Mr. Barry’s bill appears to be an effective tool in the arsenal of methods to fight employment discrimination against ex-offenders.

“Several states have legislation that is pretty similar, and they’ve made a lot of progress,” Mr. Emsellem said.

As a practical matter, Mr. Barry’s own bill appears dead for now. The bill had faced stiff opposition from the business community over fears that the bill would expose them to litigation when ex-offenders were turned down for jobs.

Instead, the council gave preliminary approval to an alternative bill on ex-offender rights introduced by Mr. Mendelson. Mr. Barry tried to amend the bill to include his anti-discrimination measures, but it failed by a 7-5 vote.

Mr. Mendelson said from the dais that the sticking point with Mr. Barry’s bill is that it is an anti-discrimination bill that goes beyond banning the box. The problem, he said, is it is not clear when it may be appropriate to deny an ex-offender a job — except in very obvious situations such as giving a convicted pedophile a job at a day care center.

“There will be an enormous amount of litigation, as well as difficulty for employers, because there is not a bright line (on) when discrimination will be warranted,” Mr. Mendelson said on Dec. 4.

The chairman’s bill makes it easier for ex-offenders to have their records sealed and makes certificates of good standing available to qualified ex-cons. It also offers limited liability to employers who are sued over an ex-offender’s actions on the job.

Mr. Mendelson said Monday he does not expect his bill to face any hurdles that will prevent it from passing on final reading.

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